Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 11/27/16
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, Johnny Depp

J.K. Rowling revisits the wizarding world in this dark and dreary tale that takes place in New York City during the 1920s. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is an unpopular and socially awkward academic who has dedicated his life to studying, protecting, and educating people about magical creatures. He arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of creatures, and inevitably several of them escape and start causing mischief. Incidentally, another magical force is on the loose with much more deadly intentions, and Newt becomes the perfect scapegoat for its crimes. Aided by a disgraced investigator named Tina (Katherine Waterston), her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and an innocent bystander named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt races against time to recover his lost creatures and discover the entity that's been menacing the city.

It's a grim and depressing affair that's heavy on spectacle and light on plot. The pacing is deliberately slow and none of the characters are particularly likable, although the heroes become a bit more enjoyable once they start working together towards the end. The script is mundane and overly predictable, but the characters are given enough depth to make it work. The tiresome switched cases and fish out of water gags could have been utterly disastrous, but Kowalski's everyman character quickly adapts and admirably rises to the occasion. He is the most sympathetic character in the film and Dan Fogler delivers a genuinely heartbreaking performance. Eddie Redmayne also gives an excellent performance and makes Newt a complex, but easily relatable character. He's much more comfortable with animals than with humans, and his interactions with both are sincere and heartfelt. The film doesn't shy away from violence, horror, prejudice, injustice, hypocrisy, or despair, and everything has an inherent nastiness to it. It feels as though the magical creatures aspect solely exists as a way to lighten the otherwise oppressive mood of the story. The bittersweet ending wraps everything up quite nicely, with no indication that four sequels are already in the works. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here.